It was a warm summer evening, the humidity had dropped and a slight breeze fluttered through the Baptist Village in Yarkon, a suburb of Petach Tikva, Israel. On the ball field, baseball players from around the world were stretching, taking infield practice, batting, and pitchers were warming up. Over at the batting cage, one player took an enormous swing and splintered his bat. Instantly young boys and girls swarmed the cage and asked for the bat, which a coach smilingly offered.
Zev Berman, 10, basks in the company of the Netanya Tigers.
This was baseball in Israel. The Israel Baseball League is brand-new. Composed of six teams, players from the United States both college and hopeful pros the Dominican Republic, Canada, Australia, Russia, a blond pitcher from Japan, and of course from Israel, the league was a new venture to bring American-style sports to Israel. Art Shamsky of the Mets, Ron Blomberg of the Yankees, and Ken Holtzman were three of the managers.
Coming into the park, which is the only one of three baseball fields suitable for pro games and the only one that is lighted, we were greeted by the souvenir stand, stocked with jerseys, T-shirts, hats, balls, gloves, bats, and so forth. The prices were a bit on the high side for Israelis, but the stand was doing business. Next in line was the refreshment stand, manned by two people, a woman taking the orders and a man filling them. Somewhere there was a cook who periodically brought in more hot dogs and hamburgers. There were numerous salads available as well as french fries, onion rings, soft drinks, and snacks. There was also an ice cream freezer that was not well patronized. A majority of the fans wore kippahs, and of course would not eat ice cream after meat.
Promptly at 6 came the call: Play ball! Two umpires, one behind the plate and one in the infield, took their positions. The fans, about 500, stood for Hatikva, and the game was on. The Netanya Tigers vs. the Ra’anana Express.’3′;
Several days before the game, the Tigers held a "Meet the Tigers" day in a Netanya mall. My wife Bernice and I attended, with our daughter-in-law Rachel, our 10-year-old grandson Zev, and our 1- and 3-year-old granddaughters Ma’ayan and Odelia. Zev had played two years of Little League, while our son Michael coached, with mixed results, like all kids.
The players signed autographs in free yearbooks, gave out souvenirs and free tickets to a game, and were genuinely nice to everyone there. It was an excellent public relations event. We secured eight tickets and Zev received a hat. Additionally, he took publicity pictures with the players and was told that if he got to the game early he could apply to be a bat boy. We arrived early; Michael knew someone, and Zev and one of his friends were official uniformed bat boys for the Netanya Tigers. The shirt was almost bigger than he was. Also wearing a helmet, he was a sight to behold. But he was thrilled. He sat in the dugout with the players and ran out after every other at-bat to retrieve the bats.
Netanya went to an early one-run lead due to timely hitting and an error. Then in the third inning Bernice asked me to bring some food from the refreshment stand. The line was looong, the service was slooow, and suddenly the crowd started cheering. Netanya started hitting, there was a home run and suddenly the score was 3-0. Of course I missed it. You can never see a game from a refreshment stand. Foul balls were chased just as at home by hordes of young boys and girls. Almost all youngsters had gloves.
One chase ended with a young girl beating out a pack of boys to be first to the ball. She came back to her father and proudly exclaimed, "They were all boys, and I beat them all." She then asked another girl if she wanted to play catch with the ball; her father almost had a heart attack. "You don’t play catch with a ball you got at a game," he said. "You save it."
The final score was 4-0. It wasn’t the best-played game, but everyone enjoyed themselves and applauded. After the game, Zev ran out with all of the players to high-five those on the field, with the biggest grin possible. For his efforts he received an official baseball with autographs. He went to sleep one happy 10- year-old.
Shel Berman lives in Paramus.